[Heb., dov or dohv; Gr., arʹkos].
The Syrian brown bear (Ursus arctos syriacus) is the animal formerly encountered in Palestine, and is still found in N Syria, NW Iran, and S Turkey. It is most often light brown in color and averages about 140 kg (310 lb) in weight. Despite seeming awkwardness, the bear can move with great rapidity even over rough ground, some varieties attaining a speed of nearly 48 km (30 mi) an hour for a short distance. Bears are also good swimmers, and most of them can climb.
The idea that bears hug or squeeze their victims to death is not borne out by the facts. When engaged in a struggle, the bear strikes with its huge paws, and its powerful, heavy arms drive the nonretractile claws deep into the body of its opponent. A single blow may be sufficient to kill an animal such as a deer. Most appropriately, therefore, the Scriptures allude to the bear’s dangerousness in parallel with that of the lion. (Am 5:19; La 3:10) Naturalists, in fact, consider the bear to be even more dangerous than the large cats. Usually, however, the bear, like other animals, does not molest humans but avoids them, although it may attack when provoked or surprised.
The ferocity of the female bear when its young are lost is mentioned several times in the Scriptures. (2Sa 17:8; Pr 17:12; Ho 13:8) Bears, on one occasion, served as God’s executioners against the delinquent youths who mocked the prophet Elisha.—2Ki 2:24.
Bears subsist on a varied diet, feeding on leaves and roots of plants, fruits, berries, nuts, eggs, insects, fish, rodents, and the like, and have a special fondness for honey. Although there are exceptions, bears seem to prefer a vegetarian diet. Nonetheless, in ancient Israel, when fruits and other nonflesh items of the bear’s diet were scarce, herders of sheep and goats had to be on guard against the depredations of bears. In his youth David had to brave the attack of a bear in order to protect his father’s flock.—1Sa 17:34-37.
When bears are hungry and get the scent of prey, they are known to make an impatient groaning sound. So the prophet Isaiah describes the Israelites as ‘groaning like bears’ in expectation of justice and salvation, only to be disappointed repeatedly. (Isa 59:11) An onrushing bear is also fittingly likened to a wicked ruler who harries and oppresses his lowly subjects.—Pr 28:15.
In Daniel’s vision of terrible beasts symbolizing world powers of earth, the bear represented the Medo-Persian World Power and its greed for territorial conquest and pillage. (Da 7:5, 17) Rapacious like this, the wild beast out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, is seen in John’s vision to have feet “as those of a bear.” (Re 13:2) The peacefulness among Jehovah’s regathered people, under Messiah’s rule, is indicated by the prophecy that the bear will feed with the cow.—Isa 11:7.